Lightning is a serious danger, and constitutes one of our country’s deadliest weather phenomena. A review of the
southern African medical literature shows a paucity of published data on lightning fatalities, with most reports coming from the lay press. A retrospective descriptive study for the period 1997 - 2000 of lightning fatalities on the South
African Highveld1 has shown that area to have a lightning ground-flash density of 6 - 9 flashes/km2/year, with a high
incidence of thunderstorm days per year (some 40 - 70) (Tracey Gill, South African Weather Service – personal communication).
The mean annual lightning death rate in our country ranges from 1.5 to 8.8 deaths per million inhabitants, which represents
one of the highest rates in the world. When lightning deaths are witnessed, the medico-legal examination is greatly
facilitated. However, when such deaths are not witnessed the investigation can be extremely difficult. In South Africa many non-specialist medical practitioners perform autopsies on lightning-related fatalities, with a resultant lack of uniformity in the medico-legal reporting. A call is therefore made for greater attention to detail in the medico-legal investigation and reporting of lightning-associated deaths. The following autopsy
guidelines are suggested.